Ah Wong’s wife had told us that there would be a second durian season for the year when we were there in June. Incidentally, we arrived at the tail-end of the season again, just like what happened on the previous trip. We did not pre-book any durian from Ah Wong this time and decided to simply drop in to test our luck. He was not around when we arrived anyway, having gone to Macalister Road where he has another stall. The fruits fetch a better price there.
D14 Balik Pulau durian.
His father served us. There were still a few “ho bak” durians that were reserved for regular customers. We picked two medium sized fruits. The first was D14. Its deep yellow flesh was sweet and sticky, and imparted a strong fragrance. There was a slight bitter aftertaste which I thought did not jive well with the initial sweetness.
Cheuk kang hor lor Balik Pulau durian.
We had hor lor during the previous trip but since good durians were in short supply, beggars could not be choosers. Ah Wong’s father called it “cheuk kang hor lor” or cave bottle gourd durian. The name probably came from the tree growing near a cave. Its pleasantly sweet aroma hit my olfactory senses just as I took the first bite. This popular cultivar has a very sweet taste that came from its smooth and fine textured flesh. The best of all was the undeveloped seeds called “chew hoot” which made the flesh even thicker.
Balik Pulau old tree kampung durian.
The second fruit did not satiate our cravings. Ah Wong’s father recommended a kampung durian. Its cream coloured flesh belied the unique pungence and bitter taste which we both liked. Unlike many of such durians, it had small seeds. These kampung durians are not as popular for the connoisseurs but I would not mind having them over the more sought after cultivars like ang heh or hor lor.
Penang char koay teow in all its glory at Mutiara Selera @ Pearl Restaurant in Island Glades.
After we left Balik Pulau with the aroma of durians still clinging to our lips, we went to Giant Hypermarket at Bayan Baru for me to use the toilet and while some time away waiting to have dinner with my cousin Peter. The idea was to eat seafood porridge at Joo Leong Cafe at Sungai Tiram. The shop was located by the road with with few suitable spots for parking. We could not find one where I could get out safely from the car. In the end, we went to Island Glades instead.
Koay kak without eggs at Mutiara Selera @ Pearl Restaurant in Island Glades.
Mutiara Selera @ Pearl Restaurant is famous for its duck egg char koay teow that I would not miss whenever I am around the vicinity. I ordered mine with chicken eggs. It was still as good although my appetite was somewhat curbed by the durians earlier. I did not enjoy it as much as I should. The koay kak there seemed popular too and I had one without eggs. It was a mistake. Koay kak without egg was just not that delicious. With that, our food adventure in Penang ended. We were to leave for Ipoh early the next day.
Our trips to Penang are never complete without a visit to the Batu Lanchang Market food court. Parking is ample and there is a seamless access into the food court although at times it was blocked by haphazardly parked motorcycles and bicycles.
Economy rice with salted fish bone and vegetable curry from Stall #24.
Nowhere else in Penang have I found most of my favourite hawker food with the taste that I like housed in one place except here. I always make it a point to drop in just before lunch time for the economy rice with kiam hu kut kari (salted fish bone and vegetable curry) and the most tender and tasty tau eu bak (belly pork braised in thick soy sauce). This was what I had for this trip and the previous two trips. Unfortunately, I had to go easy on the meat and curry.
Popiah from Stall #14.
Next in my hit list was popiah that I shared with Wuan while she let me have a few mouthfuls of her Mamak mee goreng which was equally delicious. I wished I could eat more after that but my tummy was already filled to the brim. The freshly squeezed sugar cane juice was just the perfect drink to cap an enjoyable lunch. If I could, I would have gone for the char koay teow and ice kacang as well.
Friendly hawker posing at his mee goreng stall. The many certificates below the signboard are awards from the municipal council for cleanliness.
With no plans for the rest of the day, we drove around aimlessly, checking out The Light Waterfront which was under construction near the Penang Bridge. This island has changed so much with massive development here and in Tanjung Tokong. I miss the days when life was more leisurely and the traffic along all the main roads was lighter.
Before we returned to the hotel, there was something that I needed to get to stave off my sugar cravings. The jelly coconut is a must have whenever I am in Penang. The shop, Thum Enterprise, is located at the junction of Jalan Dato Keramat and Lebuh Melaka. I got Wuan to buy four for me. That will be just sufficient for our stay in Penang. Sometimes, it does not take a lot to keep me happy.
Wuan had some work leave to clear in August. We decided to make trip to Penang again from 25th to 28th for another round of relaxation and local fruits and food. First order of the day we arrive was to catch up with Jenny, my former physiotherapist. We have not met since Wuan’s and my wedding dinner in 2009. After running through the list of food that we wanted to savour and whether the restaurants were accessible or not, we settled on Hainanese Delights Restaurant at the 1926 Heritage Hotel at Burmah Road.
Choon piah is a Hainanese speciality of shredded vegetables, minced meat and crab meat spring roll that tastes even more heavenly when dipped into a localised version of Worchestershire sauce.
Photo by Wuan.
Hainanese cuisine in Penang is an eclectic mixture of Peranakan and British flavours. It takes a lot of work and ingredients to prepare just one dish like the choon piah or asam fish. As a kid, I only got to enjoy these local favourites whenever my parents hosted guests from outstation or overseas to the Loke Thye Kee Retaurant situated at the junction between Penang Road and Burmah Road or the Sin Hai Keng Restaurant opposite the Tanjung Bungah bus station. Both have closed down a long time ago.
Inchi kabin may be spelt differently but nobody can deny that it tastes better than THAT fast famous food chicken and has been around even longer.
Photo by Wuan
Jenny came with Guan Aik, a friend and a charming young man, if I may add, and off we went to pander to my cravings. We ordered a bit too much as we struggled to finish whatever that was left towards the end and tried to push each other to eat just a little more in order not to let the food go to waste. And then we fought to pay for the dinner which Wuan and I lost out as both Jenny and Guan Aik said that we were their guests. Err, I am also Penang lang leh. Anyway, with our tummies filled to the brim, we went to Straits Quay for a look-see of the place as Wuan and I have never been there before.
This asam fish with rice can already be a complete meal for me especially when it is served with nice and tender lady’s fingers.
Photo by Wuan
I like how Straits Quay was developed from the piece of reclaimed land that was left idle for the longest time. It was near to closing time when we arrived but there were still people strolling about at the promenade. Having taken in enough of the humid and briny air, we adjourned to a German bistro and bar for some refreshments where I did a short interview with Jenny for Breaking Barriers in The Borneo Post. It had been a wonderful evening that I wished could last a little longer but Wuan was already tired from the long trip from Kuala Lumpur. We called it a night with promises to meet up again the next time Wuan and I are in Penang.
Hainanese fried noodles was a treat when I was young. It still is a treat now as there are very few restaurants that can cook this dish to the exacting standard that my taste buds approve of.
Photo by Wuan
Asam prawns are best eaten with warm rice to bring out the fragrant aroma and sourish taste of tamarind, better still with nasi lemak.
Photo by Wuan
Lor han chai also known as Buddha’s Delight is a popular vegetarian dish stir fried in a gravy of red fermented bean curd.
Photo by Wuan
My first taste of the macaroni pie. It was cheesy and creamy, and too rich to my liking since I am on a low-protein diet.
Photo by Wuan